12th February 2021
Giving a best man's speech is something many of us dread. And it's something Paul Gilmore wasn't prepared for. Did he go through with it? Read on to find out.
"Will you be my best man?" These six words can make even the boldest man pause for thought, perhaps even panic a little, but when put to a person who stammers they can strike fear into the heart.
It was the end of my time at university. Exams were over and a carefree summer lay ahead. At least I thought it was going to be a carefree summer until Bobby, my best mate, announced in the pub that he'd met the girl of his dreams and they'd decided to get married. "Well, what about it?" said Bobby.
What could I say? I desperately wanted to wriggle out but how could I? He was depending on me and we were mates. A couple of pints later and I was game for anything. If I'd been asked to make a speech at the United Nations the next day, I'd have probably said yes.
"Will you be my best man?" These six words can make even the boldest man pause for thought. When put to a person who stammers they can strike fear into the heart.
The following morning I woke to the reality of what I'd promised — and it scared me. A lot. I phoned Bobby to check that it hadn't all been a bad dream but it was true, he was getting married and I'd agreed to be his best man. End of story. I asked him a bit more about the wedding; the venue, the number of guests and, most important of all, if I would have to make a speech. It would be just a small wedding, Bobby assured me, a very informal reception, buffet meal, nothing grand, probably no speeches.
Over the following weeks leading up to the wedding I tried to forget the significance of that word 'probably'. To me, all I had to do on the Big Day was make sure I didn't lose the rings and stand in the right place at the right time. What could be simpler? I didn’t even think about a speech. It was just an informal reception. I was safe.
The day came, the sun shone, the bride blushed, the bridesmaids looked gorgeous and I didn't lose the rings. It was all going smoothly. The reception was going well — until I heard mutterings about speeches. Then I was asked to make one. Panic stations! I kept playing for time and saying that I wasn’t quite ready. Perhaps they'd forget about a speech if I sat it out for a bit longer? Unfortunately, they didn't.
I must have been looking a bit nervous because — this being Scotland — two double whiskeys arrived on my table. 'For courage', someone said with a wink. I downed the two drinks but they definitely didn't help. At least two more whiskeys arrived in front of me but they didn't help either. All around me I could hear the banging on the tables and the chant "Speech, speech, speech!". I felt nauseous, helpless, trapped and very scared. The room went quiet with expectation but I stayed where I was, as though fastened to my chair. I just couldn't do it. I felt ashamed and humiliated. I'd let Bobby down. 'Best Man'? What a joke. I just wasn’t worthy of the trust he'd put in me.
Preparation & more proposals
Some years later, when I became a teacher, my stammer was still a part of me but, mostly, I learned to control it (read Paul's other article 'My first day as a teacher'). The key to this was preparation. If I was sure of what I was going to teach, meaning that I'd read the background to the topic thoroughly, understood the details and anticipated possible questions, then I had the confidence to get through a lesson — and the more lessons I got through the more confident I became. It didn't mean that my stammer was cured but it was nearly always in the background, showing itself only occasionally and few people even knew that I had a stammer. It felt good, as though a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders.
The thought of standing in front of a hundred people scared me, but I couldn't — and wouldn't — let my stepdaughter down.
Fast forward in time. "Will you make a speech at my wedding?" my stepdaughter asked me. Her father had died some time before so, of course, the answer was yes. That summer, as her wedding day drew nearer, I thought of my ordeal at Bobby's wedding. The thought of standing in front of a hundred people scared me, but I couldn't — and wouldn't — let my stepdaughter down.
Often I woke in the early hours with ideas for the speech jumping around in my head but, gradually, the ideas came together and the speech took shape. Soon, I was prepared. When the moment came, I stood up and said what I wanted to say. It wasn't a bad speech, though I say so myself; there was some humour, some emotion, no one fell asleep, I didn't need notes (or whiskey). And I was able to control my stammer.